- State legislators are making vigilant provisions just
in case Osama bin Laden's next cowardly shoe to drop is a biological, chemical
or nuclear attack. Thirty-three states are considering legislation to prepare
for such attacks. For this they should be heartily applauded. But such
legislation must also stand scrutiny in respect to civil liberties.
- One controversial proposal, the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention's Model Emergency Health Powers Act, is rightfully viewed
as an unprecedented legislative assault upon civil liberties. The CDC proposal
allows governors to unilaterally declare a public health emergency, stripping
individuals and families of their rights and liberties for 60 days. Only
then is a state legislature allowed to intervene by a majority vote.
Following a governor's emergency declaration, unelected state health officials
immediately assume broad powers to seize property, share your private health
information, quarantine individuals suspected of being infected, ration
goods and services, compel mass vaccinations and even assume control over
state and local police. The potential for blunder borne out of incompetence
is enormous, not to mention the potential for willful abuse.
The medical community and business owners have the most to fear. Under
a declared state of emergency, hospitals could be procured, through ''condemnation
or otherwise,'' by anyone who meets whatever constitutes a public health
authority. The owner of a fleet of school buses, for example, could have
his property expropriated without compensation to transport infected people,
animals or waste. Private homes, businesses or our schools could be walled
off as quarantine locations. And there is not one thing anyone could do
about it for 60 days.
If one set out to intentionally legislate extremism, the CDC model would
be it. Unlike Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maryland, not every state has
introduced the most extreme version of the bill. At the very least, each
state and its citizens should scrutinize every word of legislation being
considered. If states go too far, they hand the terrorists of the world
a belated victory.
- Duane Parde is executive director of the American Legislative
Exchange Council, a bipartisan organization of state legislators.
- Copyright © 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett